If there was one thing we could change about the Crazy Horse, it would be to make it just a little bit bigger. Most days, the size is perfect. It’s cozy, but there is room to spare for everyone who wants to be here. As with any music venue, occasionally the appeal of our shows exceeds the legal capacity. Reaching the magic number of 108 bodies happens awfully fast. There are few things we despise more than having to turn people away. Very rarely does it become a necessity as it did on November 22 and 23. We knew the two-night run for Dead Winter Carpenters would be a monumental occasion, but it managed to transcend all expectations.
We’ve packed the house quite a few times for artists such as The Deadbeats, Achilles Wheel, Bob Woods Trio, Zach Deputy, Jelly Bread, DJ Neptune and Hip Hop Medicine. But we’ve never seen the sort of demand as was generated by Dead Winter Carpenters. Friday’s show reached sell-out status by 9:15. On Saturday, we had to cap it at 8:15. With regulars and diehard fans pleading to squeeze them in, it became increasingly difficult to stick to our guns. Out of respect for the law and the comfort of our patrons, there was no leeway. Some especially eager beavers waited patiently in the frigid temperatures until people left and they could take their places. You’ve got to appreciate a band which is so highly regarded, people have no qualms about making such sacrifices.
Of course Dead Winter Carpenters could have played a larger venue, but there was something extra special about seeing them in the intimate confines of the Horse. They commanded the room from start to finish each night, taking everyone on a wild ride. It can be natural at times to pigeonhole their sound in the bluegrass genre (they do have a fiddle player after all), but before you know it they have shifted course into funky-rock terrain or rootsy-soul. In a loose sense it could all fit under the big Americana umbrella. Whatever they are playing, one might describe it as “immersive.” The listener is seemingly enveloped in every note.
For anyone who attended both shows, there was no denying how radically different they were. It started with the overall energy of the room and the crowd which was significantly more relaxed on Saturday night. The band was clearly in a Dead kind of mood as they spent the entire first set paying tribute to the Grateful Dead with resplendent covers including “Sugaree,” “Franklin’s Tower,” and “Fire on the Mountain.” After an eclectic second set featuring several of their most riveting originals, they treated us to a searing encore of CSNY’s “Ohio.” Guitarist Jesse Dunn has the Neil Young vocal nuances down pat. On Friday he gifted us with a righteous version of “Don’t Let it Bring You Down.” That night was a pressure cooker with a rabid crowd and manic show to match. They wrapped it up with a heady cover of Scissor Sister’s “Take Your Mama Out Tonight.” Clearly the Dead Winter Carpenters couldn’t have been any more alive.